True freshman Jordan Wynn threw for a career-high 338 yards and three touchdowns to rally No. 23 Utah from an early two-touchdown deficit to a 37-27 victory over California in the Poinsettia Bowl on Wednesday night.
The Utes scored 27 straight points to win their ninth straight bowl game, the longest current streak in the country and tied for the second-longest ever. Florida State won 11 straight from 1985-96 and Southern California won nine in a row from 1923-45.
"It's the work ethic of our players," coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We don't have any secret, magic way of practicing for bowl games. It's how our guys go about their business. It's their work ethic and focus. They understand a bowl game is a reward for a good season but also a chance to win another ballgame."
The Utes' bowl victory streak began with a win over Fresno State in the 1999 Las Vegas Bowl. A member of the Mountain West Conference, the Utes were the original BCS busters, beating Pittsburgh 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2004 season. They also beat Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl last season.
Cal is the fifth team from a BCS conference to lose to Utah during the streak.
Utah didn't play in bowl games following the 2000 and 2002 seasons.
The Golden Bears, in a bowl game for the school-record seventh straight year, had their four-game postseason winning streak snapped.
"We didn't come into this game overconfident," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "That's a good football team there. I don't know what the perception is throughout, but we give them a lot of respect. They did a nice job of controlling the line of scrimmage."
Wynn improved to 3-0 at Qualcomm Stadium, including two section championships while the starter at suburban Oceanside High. He graduated last December and enrolled at Utah in January, allowing him to participate in spring ball.
Wynn completed 26 of 36 passes and improved to 3-2 as the Utes' starter.
Utah's defense came up big, too. The Utes sacked Cal's Kevin Riley five times and intercepted him twice, with linebacker Stevenson Sylvester returning a tipped pass 27 yards for a touchdown late in the game. Riley also lost a fumble.
"It's a great feeling, especially at home, to play the way I did and get a bowl win," Wynn said. "The defense had a great night. It's kind of been the story all year. Our defense is solid. We rely on them to keep us in the game."
Shane Vereen, who scored twice, was the seventh Cal back to gain more than 100 yards in a bowl, finishing with 122 yards on 20 carries.
Utah (10-3) looked overmatched after Cal (8-5) scored twice in 11 seconds midway through the first quarter. Vereen scored on a 36-yard run and Eddie Young intercepted Wynn on the first play of Utah's next drive and returned it 31 yards for a score.
After that it was all Utah.
"Our coaches told us to calm down," Wynn said about the quick deficit. "It was early in the game. We knew there was a lot of time left to just slow it down and make plays and claw ourselves back in the game."
Young said the Golden Bears hoped to rattle the young QB.
"That was our plan going in, to make him make tough reads," he said. "But they made plays and he threw the ball down the field and his receivers went up and got the ball."
Utah's defense shut down Cal and Utah scored on its last four possessions of the first half.
Wynn threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kendrick Moeai late in the first quarter and Joe Phillips' 28-yard field goal early in the second quarter pulled Utah to 14-10.
Wynn's 15-yard scoring pass to Moeai gave Utah the lead and his 21-yarder to Jereme Brooks made it 24-14 at halftime.
Riley fumbled early in the third quarter when he was sacked by Lamar Chapman, with Mike Wright recovering at the 14. That set up Phillips' 29-yard field goal for a 27-14 lead.
Cal finally scored again on a 1-yard run by Vereen with 39 seconds left in the third quarter to pull the Golden Bears to 27-21 before Phillips kicked a 25-yard field goal.
Riley was 20 of 36 for 214 yards and one touchdown.
Cal had only six first downs in the first half.
Utah's David Reed set school records for catches (81) and receiving yards (1,188) in a season. Both records came on a 39-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
"The record came along with being part of this great program, great coaches, great organization, great everything," Reed said. "Jordan Wynn played a great game and it can't get any better than the way it finished."